I often report on new scientific breakthroughs, but today’s blog is about a few new technological applications that will benefit our industry. I rarely go a day without seeing some new innovation, and I thought the following were the most interesting ones I’ve seen lately.
First, Apple is working on a fuel cell for portable devices. This would be a big breakthrough for laptops, tablets and other sizable portable devices because fuel cells have some distinct advantages over the batteries we use today. For one thing, the fuel generating chemicals in a fuel cell can be refilled and so the battery could theoretically be kept going for a long time.
This is important because laptop batteries today are considered as toxic waste. Fuel cells would cut down on pollution by eliminating some of the nastier metals used in today’s batteries. By lasting longer they would cut down on the huge number of batteries we are burning through as a society. For instance Apple could develop a universal tablet battery that you would keep as you move through newer generations of devices. Our devices today are not particularly green and disposing of our devices is creating a challenge for landfills and groundwater, mostly due to the batteries. So the small fuel cells will be a big step towards greener devices.
Next, the Korean manufacturer LG has announced a TV screen that can be rolled up like a poster. There have been flexible TVs around for a few years, but LG has made a screen that can be rolled up into a 1.5 inch tube. This will drastically change the supply chain for TVs. They are expensive today to ship and store due to the large sizes and they often get damaged in transit. But TVs this flexible can be sent by UPS in a tube.
The LG technology can also produce transparent TVs. This opens up a whole new world of applications for TVs and monitors. For instance you could put TVs on bathroom mirrors to watch while you brush your teeth. They could go on any window or on any wall and would disappear when not being used as TVs. I remember reading science fiction books many years ago that predicted that there would be TVs everywhere in the future, and with this technology that might be finally possible. These screens also advance the trend for separating the TV electronics from the screens. We will be able to put screens anywhere controlled by the same centralized smart box.
LG says they will be able to make a transparent 60-inch flexible TV capable of 4K quality by 2017. But the promise of this technology is not just for giant TVs, but also for little TVs screens that can be put anywhere – in the bathroom, kitchen, shop, garage – wherever somebody wants to watch a screen. The biggest outcome of cheap TVs everywhere would be an explosion in the demand for bandwidth. It’s not hard to picture households wanting to have ten football games on at the same time on Sundays.
Google has announced a new feature for Android that allows devices in proximity to each other to automatically connect. They are calling this technology Nearby. Any device using this technology would seek out and find any other nearby devices and would connect to enable communication. This has a lot of applications. For example, when friends or family meet their phones could automatically synch up and update calendars or whatever else they want to share. This technology might be the platform to let stores contact shoppers as they pass through the store to offer specials or point out items of interest. And for the Internet of Things this is a handy way to make the smartphone the controller of other devises. Whenever you walk into a room in your house your phone would be instantly talking to all of the Nearby devices there.
Nearby would do this by automatically turning on the Bluetooth, WiFi and microphones as needed. There are some privacy concerns about this capability and certainly there will be apps to let each user set the degree to which they are willing to be open to others, and to also control who might be able to connect to you. But Google is counting on most people wanting to have an interactive shopping experience and that is probably what they see as the biggest commercial application of the technology. Google has been looking for a way to compete with Amazon in he shopping arena, and this might be that platform. Where Amazon dominates the online shopping experience Google could come to dominate the in-store shopping experience.